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Twelve Top Tips for Training an International Audience
Delivering customer service training to a global audience can be a minefield of potential mistakes, mistakes and disasters. Whether you have 30 or 300 people, you’re likely to be dealing with men and women, old and young, company veterans and new hires, locals and foreigners, married, single or recently divorced, and every possible Race, religion and sexual persuasion. With such a group, you can unintentionally offend, insult, or even alienate them with little effort.
Avoid Painful Mistakes When Providing Customer Service Training! When you work with participants from around the world in customer service training or other projects, follow these twelve tips and you’ll find yourself in a focused, engaged and harmonious learning team.
1. Don’t assume. ask!
In customer service training or any other program, don’t assume everyone in the room is like you or everyone else! Acknowledge the diversity of the room. Highlight the rich life and business experience that this group can represent.
Ask participants to share themselves in the group. Start with simple questions: business experience, education, where they lived or worked. As the conversation heats up, turn to current business questions: Ask them what they think about industry trends, the entry of new competitors, products, technology, or government regulations. Then jump right into the customer service training topic at hand: Have participants discuss what to expect from the course, the problems they need to solve, and the solutions they plan to discover.
Finally, when the group has rapported, ask participants to share about their personal lives—family, hobbies, vacations, and other special interests.
2. Speak very clearly.
Your native language may not be the first language of all your audience. Adjust your presentation style so everyone can easily follow customer service training.
Many years ago, I was speaking in Australia to a large international audience. Eleven countries are represented in seven different languages. Simultaneous interpretation is provided for non-native English speakers. Buoyed by the crowd, I began by presenting humorous stories, anecdotes, case studies, and key points of customer service training. Throughout the presentation, I enjoyed hearing the Japanese laugh at all the jokes I told.
Or so it seems. After the presentation, a Japanese participant put it bluntly: I spoke too fast and the interpreter couldn’t keep up. Instead of translating my customer service training presentation, he gave up and spent most of his time talking in Japanese about how much fun it was to see this American guy scurrying around onstage! I laughed when I heard the report, but of course I learned my lesson: to an international audience, slow down and speak very clearly.
3. Bridging the communication gap.
Some people in your group may speak a language that is not their native language. If others have difficulty understanding their vocabulary or pronunciation, you can bridge the gap by repeating their comments and contributions clearly to others in your customer service training program.
Go beyond spoken language to encourage understanding: Use graphs, charts, pictures, videos, real-life examples, role plays, and other nonverbal techniques to get your point across.
4. Encourage everyone to participate.
Newcomers bring fresh perspectives. The old man has experience and wisdom. Locals understand “what’s happening here and now”. Foreigners have a “global” view.
Be generous with your compliments and compliments. “That’s a great question!” Let everyone know it’s safe to ask the next one. “Thank you for your answer!” Tell the whole room that it’s safe to risk answering during customer service training.
5. Experienced, no exceptions.
Customer service training professionals are often experienced and well-traveled. They can bring great value to the team, but don’t overemphasize the difference. You want respect, not distance. A little humility goes a long way when contacting international groups for customer service training.
6. Speak the local language.
If possible, use local language, customs and examples in your presentation. This may take some preparation on your part, but it can make a huge difference to your team during customer service training.
Towards the end of the Cold War, comedian Billy Crystal started his stand-up show in Moscow, conducting the first five minutes entirely in Russian. But Billy Crystal doesn’t speak Russian; he memorized his entire opening line with a translator! When he finished the rest of the program in English, the Russian audience loudly agreed and continued to laugh.
7. Avoid poorly translated phrases.
What is “clear as a bell” to you may be “thick as mud” in any other language. Avoid poorly translated phrases during customer service training. “One Six, Another Six”, “Gritting Teeth”, “Like It Rained” and “Chicken with Heads Off” might translate well in your home country, but bring real confusion and frustration overseas . Do you “get what I mean”?
8. When in doubt, ignore.
Be careful with your comments about politics, religion, sex, racial issues and humor during customer service training. What is amusing to one group may be downright offensive to another. There are plenty of things to laugh about in this world without having to laugh at any one group. Make one mistake in customer service training and it will be remembered forever.
9. Triple check all translations.
If your presentations, workbooks, and handouts are translated into another language, double-check your word and phrase choices. Use professional translators who are familiar with your field of work. Then check in again with the actual participants in your group.
At the Service Quality Center in Singapore, we use the phrase “Never Settle” to mean “strive for continuous improvement”. But when we first took this sentence overseas, it was translated into Mandarin like this: “Never agree in a negotiation”. This phrase has become “don’t sit down” in Indonesia!
10. Mixed groups increase participation.
Sharing experiences is one of the best aspects of international customer service training. But don’t expect participants to do it on their own. Drive the process by mixing teams in various ways. Suppose you have 32 participants. You can combine them into small teams of 2, 4, 6, 8 or even 16 people at different times.
Have them “count” the numbers in the room to randomize groups. Or have more fun! I often group by date of birth, number of siblings, seniority at company, initial of last name, length of hair, color of socks!
11. Guaranteed airtime for everyone.
Some peoples are naturally more outspoken than others. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak up by sequencing participation during customer service training. Once everyone is in groups, have the most senior member of the group speak first, or the least senior speak first. Let the women speak first, or let those who have traveled from the farthest places speak first.
Acknowledge outspoken participants, but don’t let them drown out the conversation during customer service training. I do this a lot by having the group nominate a speaker and then have that person nominate others in the group to speak on their behalf!
12. Finally put it all back together.
Having everyone in the mix is great for sharing new ideas during customer service training. But be sure to bring everyone back together at the end to prioritize key points and develop new action steps. Have real workgroups (whether by function, country, client or project) explain the relevance of their learning to work and present their plans for improvement and implementation.
Whether you’re attending customer service training, a meeting to attend, or an important meeting to host, these time-tested tips will help you and your participants bring out the best in you!
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